In an ideal world, rational people would stop believing false claims that had been conclusively debunked. Ours is not a rational world. Here, unbelievable claims just keep going and going, like the Energizer Bunny. The myths are like zombies that refuse to die. Products are tweaked and given new names, and customers keep buying them.
I first wrote about detoxification quackery over a decade ago after I observed vendors at a local fair demonstrating ionic foot baths to gullible customers. Detoxification quackery is silly. The idea of detoxing through the skin of the feet is even sillier. First it was foot baths and then it was foot pads.
Myth vs. reality
Myth: we are exposed to all kinds of hazardous chemicals and toxins in our environment.
Reality: yes, but there is a difference between hazard and risk. A hazard is anything that could potentially cause harm. A risk is the chance that someone will actually be harmed by the hazard.
Myth: toxins accumulate in our bodies, as evidenced by blood tests.
Reality: our lab tests have become so good at identifying minuscule quantities that we are tempted to forget the old adage that the dose makes the poison. Even drinking too much water has been known to kill people, while tiny amounts of most toxins have never been shown to cause harm. One atom of a radioactive element has never killed anyone, except maybe Schrodinger’s cat; and that is nothing but a hypothetical thought experiment where the cat is rendered simultaneously both dead and alive.
Myth: we need to detoxify.
Reality: our liver does a good job of removing toxins. It doesn’t need any outside help.
Myth: toxins can be removed through the skin of our feet.
Reality: no, they can’t.
Myth: “detoxifying” foot baths and pads remove toxins.
Reality: the toxins are never named, and attempts to measure decreased amounts of toxins in the body or increased amounts in the water after treatment have all failed.
Myth: the color in the water shows which toxins were removed:
- Yellow-green = detoxifying from the kidney, bladder, urinary tract, female/prostate area
- Orange = detoxifying from joints
- White cheese like particles = most likely yeast
- Brown = detoxifying from liver, tobacco, cellular debris
- Black = detoxifying from liver, gallbladder
- Dark green = detoxifying from gallbladder
- White foam = mucous from lymph
- Black flecks = heavy metals
- Red flecks = blood clot material
Reality: the color in the water is created by hydrolysis. It is either rust from the electrodes or due to impurities on the skin or in the water. The process is well understood. Early on, skeptics observed that the water changes color if you run the footbath without putting your feet in it.
Myth: the detoxifying foot pads change color overnight, proving that toxins, waste products, chemicals, and heavy metals have been removed. This is said to have all kinds of health benefits, such as:
- Lower your blood pressure
- Relieve headaches
- Reduce cellulite
- Ease symptoms of depression
- Improve your life with diabetes
- Help you sleep better
- Increase weight loss
Reality: The adhesive foot patches don’t remove any toxins. They occlude the skin and make it sweat. The patches contain vinegar. The color change is produced by skin debris, vinegar, and sweat. Using vinegar-soaked gauze will accomplish the same thing.
Kinoki foot pads
Kinoki foot pads were banned for deceptive marketing:
The defendants also advertised that when applied to the soles of consumers’ feet at night, the foot pads could remove toxins, metabolic wastes, heavy metals, and chemicals from the body; treat headaches, depression, parasites, fatigue, insomnia, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, cellulite, and a weakened immune system; and cause weight loss. In its complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on January 27, 2009, the FTC charged that these advertising claims were false or unsupported.
The defendants agreed to a judgment of $14.5 million, which represents the total revenues from the sale of Kinoki Foot Pads.
A new kid on the block: Nuubu
So Kinoki foot pads are out, but Nuubu foot pads are in.
The company says “The largest concentration of harmful toxins is in the feet“. That’s simply not true. They offer no evidence, because there isn’t any.
These foot pads contain loquat leaf, vitamin C, wood vinegar, bamboo vinegar, dextrin, houttuynia cordata, tourmaline, and negative ion powder. Claims are made for each of these ingredients. For instance, negative ion powder is said to “restore the healthy pH level and harmonize oxygen level in the blood stream”. and tourmaline “improves the detoxification process and strengthens your liver and kidneys”. Vague, unsubstantiated pseudoscientific gibberish. No supporting references.
The Nuubu website tells us all of these are signs of toxic build-up:
- Brain fog
- Skin problems
- Muscle aches
- Body odor
- Stubborn weight
They use familiar altmed buzzwords: traditional, ancient wisdom, all-natural, holistic, treats the cause rather than just the symptoms, cost-effective (because it treats multiple symptoms at once). Yes, they contradict themselves, claiming it doesn’t treat symptoms while also claiming it treats multiple symptoms. There is pressure to “buy now” while the foot pads are on sale for a limited time. There is even a page that repeats the ridiculous reflexology claim that all the body’s organ systems flow through the feet!
They claim to be using “tried-and-true Asian medicinal techniques”. They mention 360 acupoints, more than 60 of which are found on the soles of the feet. They say their herbs are picked in the remote East-Asian mountainsides and are eco-friendly. The website carries an extensive disclaimer.
Conclusion: No evidence here
I can’t say that Nuubu foot pads and detox foot baths have no benefits. Subjective and placebo benefits are always possible. Maybe you find that sitting for a while with your feet in warm water is soothing and relaxing. Maybe you enjoy carrying out chemical experiments that cause color changes. Maybe you like feeling that you are doing something to help yourself by carrying out a ritual.
What I can say with confidence is that there is no evidence that removing toxins through the skin of the feet is possible.